How long will a whole turkey keep in a refrigerator?

  • My daughter bought a fresh, organic, kosher turkey from Trader Joe's last night (her first turkey!), 8 days before she will start cooking it.

    • The company customer service representative as well as the store manager all reassure us that their turkeys are fine to refrigerate in the coldest part of the refrigerator for as long as 10 days.

    • The turkey's sell-by date is Nov. 28 - two days after Thanksgiving. The information on their own food storage guide as well as some other info I have read say that 1 - 2 days is the proper amount of time to store a fresh turkey.

    • TJ's says that the manner in which they transport their turkeys - at a nearly, but not quite frozen, state extends that time.

    As long as she stores it unopened in the coldest, bottom part of her fridge (and turns the temperature down as well), will the turkey survive until Thanksgiving? She plans to brine the turkey a day or two ahead of cooking it also.

    Sorry I can't tell you for sure, but I can give my experience. Last fresh turkey I bought, the fat under the skin went rancid in the two days I kept it refrigerated before brining it. I don't think it was kept properly at the store before I picked it up, to be honest. If your bird gets rancid, you'll be able to tell, believe me.

    I really don't believe anyone responsible enough is going to recommend you to eat something you've doubts about ...

  • Aaronut

    Aaronut Correct answer

    10 years ago

    Not all turkeys are the same, and personally, I would not risk letting an entire turkey go rancid in the refrigerator. There is so much you don't know about this turkey:

    • How was it butchered? In particular, how long was it sitting on the block and was it packed immediately afterward or left sitting out for a long time?

    • How quickly was it cooled down to "transporting" temperature after butchering?

    • Was it transported immediately, or was it stored for a while before transport, and if so, what were those storage conditions?

    • How specifically was it transported? What were the environmental conditions, aside from temperature? Was it exposed to air? Could it have picked up any other contaminants?

    • Just how cold was the refrigerator at Trader Joe's? Are you sure that it's consistently that cold?

    • What if the turkey was shifted around? For example, what if some other customer picked it up, tossed it in a shopping cart, then after an hour of shopping decided to put it back?

    • How did she transport it? I'm guessing in a non-temperature-controlled trunk? How long was it in that condition/environment before finally making it into the fridge?

    • Was the temperature in the fridge turned down as far as it can go long before putting the turkey in there? If not, how long might it have taken to get down to the desired temperature, especially with a massive slightly-warmed-up turkey in there?

    • How cold does her refrigerator get? Is it a new refrigerator? Are you both certain that it gets as cold as the rep at TJ's is assuming? Have you actually stuck a thermometer in there to measure the environmental temperature around where the turkey would be stored?

    I'm not expecting you to answer any of these; my point is just that there are so many variables, so many things that can go wrong, and the quoted 10-day storage period (as well as the sell-by date) is for storage under ideal conditions.

    I've seen turkeys go rancid in the fridge after just 2 days. I've seen others take longer, but still far less than 10 days to go rancid. It's an incredibly frustrating and completely avoidable experience. Just put it in the freezer! She just needs to make sure she gives it a couple of days to thaw in the fridge, due to the size of the bird. A half-frozen turkey on Thanksgiving day is almost as useless as a rancid one.

    Yes, we are going to freeze the turkey and then take it out to thaw on Monday. On Tuesday night we will start the brining process. Thanks for the good advice. Every year the turkey trauma begins anew.

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